The first Silverados built in Oshawa reached dealer lots this month.
The automaker on Dec. 23 said on Twitter that the truck bearing vehicle identification number (VIN) 001 was on its way to Paillé Chevrolet-Buick-GMC in Berthierville, Que., winner of the rights to purchase the first Oshawa-built Silverado.
Bell could not say what portion of the plant’s output would be destined for Canadian dealers but said that over time, GM will aim to build every Silverado sold in Canada in Oshawa.
The one-year turnaround for Oshawa’s retooling was among the quickest in GM history, Bell said. Much of the automaker’s retooling team, which typically spends months on-site upgrading a plant, was based in the United States, and could not enter Canada because of COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, GM shed a number of more traditional approaches.
“We weren’t able to get people across the border, and so the team had to be very nimble and creative,” Bell said.
The team leveraged the new virtual norm in place of cross-border travel and used the microchip shortage to its advantage. When the CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ont., was idled because of the supply shortages, for instance, GM put some of the plant’s staff to work on the retrofits in Oshawa.
Ultimately, personnel installed more than 1,100 new robots, 500 kilometres of electrical wiring and 3.1 kilometres of conveyance.
‘BEGINNING OF SOMETHING’
The plant’s new production team reflects modern strides toward a more diverse manufacturing sector. Half of the 1,200 new hires at the plant are women.
The outcome is a direct result of the hiring team’s effort to dispel the longstanding stigma about women in manufacturing roles, Bell said. To promote inclusivity, GM adjusted its job advertisements and rooted out bias in its training program that favoured physicality over quality.
“With the equipment, the technology that we have, even building heavy-duty trucks, it’s not about brute strength, it’s really about doing that job right and doing it with a great attention to detail,” Bell said.
As the new hires gain experience, he said, GM will be able to draw from the pool of female talent to boost representation within its management. Today, women make up about 23 per cent of GM’s global workforce and roughly 20 per cent of its executives, according to the company’s 2020 sustainability report.
“Hopefully, this is the beginning of something for the long haul in all of our manufacturing facilities,” Bell said.
Oshawa will run on a single shift through this month before ramping up to two shifts in early 2022. GM has filled most of the 1,800 positions available at the plant and is in the final stages of training workers on the second shift.
Most are new to the five-million-square-foot (465,000-square-metre) plant, though around 500 of the 2,300 workers who were laid off when Oshawa closed in late 2019 retained their recall rights.
Unifor was transitioning the plant’s workforce when the retooling and restart were announced, said union President Jerry Dias. Starting with a relatively “clean canvas” let Unifor and the company work together on hiring a diverse workforce, Dias said.
A year after that process started, when the first pickup rolled off the line, the number of young workers created a palpably expectant atmosphere, he said.
“It’s not very often that you start a job and you think, ‘Boy, I’m going to be here for a long, long, long time,’ ” Dias said.
The city of Oshawa may no longer identify exclusively as an auto town, but Mayor Dan Carter said the “psychological factor” of the plant’s reopening has reenergized the community. The restart of production means the city of 170,000 will continue to hold a prominent position in the industry, he said.
“It will be different than it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago, but I think it will play an important role,” Carter said.
Along with the jobs at Oshawa Assembly, parts suppliers in the area have been able to ramp back up, returning thousands of jobs, Dias said. It also broadcasts a clear signal beyond Oshawa.
“It’s showing ... the claim of the death of our auto industry was premature, to say the least,” he said.